GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Project Compost, University of California—Davis

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

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The Project Compost student staff members pick up compost from around campus in an electric vehicle known as “Cyclops.”

Passionate students at UC Davis are helping their school meet its ambitious goal of being zero-waste by the year 2020. Project Compost, a student-run group, keeps an average of 2,358 pounds of organic waste—such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and laboratory plants—out of landfills each week.

In many spots on campus, students sort their organic waste into special bins, and the university sends the compostables to a private industrial composting facility located 40 minutes from campus. But several campus cafes, plant laboratories, and living communities do not benefit from this service, so Project Compost diverts these venues’ organic waste away from landfills. Project Compost’s founders established the group as an official unit of the student government, so it receives funds from the university.

“The composting that we do on campus is very small-scale compared to the amount of industrial-scale composting that the university already organizes…[but] is sort of an educational way for students to see how the process works, and it also [provides mulch], the finished product, at the end,” says Noelle Patterson, the Student Unit Director of Project Compost. “A lot of the places that we divert from would not have composting if it weren’t for our services.”

Both Project Compost and UC Davis keep substantial quantities of organic waste out of landfills each year—the former collects more than a ton of waste, and the latter diverts over 100 tons.

Project Compost’s 25 student volunteers use an electric vehicle—donated by the campus coffeehouse, their largest pickup location—to carry the organic waste to a 60-foot-long compost pile. A tractor turns the entire compost pile, adding oxygen, which the microorganism decomposers need. After four to six months, the finished compost is ready to use as organic fertilizer. Project Compost distributes the compost to community members and uses some in its own vegetable garden, in which interns grow radishes, carrots, melons, and strawberries, among other plants.

This past year, Project Compost also organized 12 workshops to educate students and community members about composting and vermicomposting, which involves the decomposition of organic matter using worms. The group encourages students to try vermicomposting, which can be done in closed containers on a small scale, making it conducive to apartments and dorm rooms.

“I think that our strongest suit is in the education and awareness we bring to students and the community,” says Patterson.

Patterson also has a favorable view of the direction in which her school is headed.

“I see more compost bins popping up around campus, so UC Davis is making a lot of great strides. I think that Project Compost always has potential to expand… I would love to see the group grow.”

Sari Amiel

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